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The nation's largest public library system is ending late fees forever

People walk along the stairs of the New York Public Library building on July 6 in Midtown Manhattan in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago
Getty Images
People walk along the stairs of the New York Public Library building on July 6 in Midtown Manhattan in New York City.

The largest public library system in the country has become the latest to eliminate all late fees.

Effective immediately, the New York Public Library system will not charge fines on overdue materials, and all library card holders have had their accounts cleared of any prior late fees or fines, including replacement fees for lost materials, the NYPL announced on Tuesday, in what it called a change intended to level the playing field for all library patrons and encourage use of library resources.

Fines are "an antiquated, ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books; for those who can afford the fines, they are barely an incentive," New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx said in a news release.

"For those who can't afford the fines — disproportionately low-income New Yorkers — they become a real barrier to access that we can no longer accept. This is a step towards a more equitable society, with more New Yorkers reading and using libraries, and we are proud to make it happen."

New York isn't the only public library system that has implemented such policies; in April, the Boston Public Library system committed to eliminating all late fees after previously nixing overdue fines for minors. The Burbank Public Library system in California wiped all patron accounts clean in July and announced that it would no longer charge late fees, in a move intended to increase access.

"While fines for overdue items may seem like a small burden, they can create a major barrier to service for those who are struggling financially," the Burbank release stated. "Too many people have made the choice to stop using the Library because of inability to pay or fear of accruing fines."

The San Diego Public Library scrapped fines back in 2019, as did the Chicago Public Library. And these increasingly popular initiatives have been proven successful: After the policy change, Chicago public libraries saw an increase in returned materials as well as library card renewals, according to a previous NPR report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sharon Pruitt-Young